Uncovering Haiti's Hidden History

By Scherr, Judith | In These Times, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Uncovering Haiti's Hidden History


Scherr, Judith, In These Times


A CONGRESSIONAL BILL THAT would create a truth commission to explore the U.S. role in the 2004 regime change in Haiti is languishing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee with only 12 co-sponsors. But Rep. Barbara Lee's (D-Calif.) H.R. 331 has sparked hope among some Haitians who think the bill might pass under a friendly Obama administration and bring needed change to the indebted island nation.

Lee introduced the bill Jan. 8 without fanfare. She has brought the same bill to the U.S. House almost every year since 2004. It has never advanced out of committee.

The commission's task would be to determine what happened on Feb. 29, 2004, and the months leading up to the removal of Haiti's President Jean Bertrand Aristide, currently exiled in South Africa.

The official U.S. position goes something like this: In February 2004, an armed militia was poised to take over the capital, Port-au-Prince. To avoid a bloodbath, Aristide called on the Americans to airlift him and his wife to safety.

Aristide "left the country with our assistance, which he requested," Mari ToIliver, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, told In These Times in August. (Karl Duckworth, spokesperson for the State Department, said that he could not comment on the U.S. role in Aristide's departure, as the Obama State Department is doing a "complete evaluation of all the areas to see where we will be on issues.")

Aristide tells a different story. He says that a rag-tag band of some 200 rebels strong-armed poorly equipped police stations in several Haitian towns, but posed no threat to the capital, the president or the central government. Aristide says American officials forced him to board a plane whose destination was unknown.

Congress has only once formally addressed the question of the U.S. role in the coup. On March 3, 2004, the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee held a hearing, providing the opportunity for Congress to question State Department officials. Those testifying were not under oath; there were no follow-up hearings.

The week following the hearing, Lee introduced her bill on the House floor, explaining that the purpose of the truth commission was to "find out more about the events leading up to President Aristide's departure, the twilight activities of his alleged resignation, the current unconstitutional government, and the ongoing turmoil, fear, and misinformation that is still flowing out of Haiti."

In 2004, 49 representatives co-sponsored the bill. …

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